New homes need to be high quality, accessible and sustainable. To achieve this, the Government are setting out a road map to deliver a radically simplified system for setting standards in the design and construction of new homes.

Deregulation Bill

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) launched a consultation in August 2013 which proposed a reform of the various standards and regulations applied to housing through the planning system. The primary aim of this was to reduce bureaucracy and the cost of housing development.

In addition to Building Regulations, Local Authorities have included in their local plans requirements for housing to adhere to numerous additional standards. On 27 March 2014 the Prime Minister, in an effort to reduce complexity, announced that 800 regulations had been abolished or simplified – and there were more pages of ‘red tape’ to be removed. On 13 March 2014 a ministerial statement from Parliamentary under-secretary of state for DCLG, Stephen Williams, announced that:

“New homes need to be high quality, accessible and sustainable. To achieve this, the Government are today setting out a road map delivering a radically simplified system for setting standards in the design and construction of new homes by the end of this Parliament. This represents the outcome of a significant and ambitious drive to reduce the regulatory burden on the housing industry, and will save money and time for industry and authorities. The road map will involve consolidating essential requirements in to a national framework centred on the Building Regulations, reducing substantially the number of technical standards applying to the construction of new home.”

Williams goes on to state that “... the Government has decided that the most sensible way forward is for any necessary technical standards as far as possible to be consolidated into the Building Regulations and the accompanying Approved Documents, and to make significant progress on this over the rest of this Parliament.”

The Deregulation Bill – presently going through Parliamentary approval – provides a duty on those tasked with setting regulatory function; it will enable changes to existing legislation including new powers in the Building Act to enable differing levels of performance to meet local circumstances. Under this amendment, standards will be reduced from 100 to 10 and consolidated into Building Regulations to streamline and create efficiency. Draft documents have been published outlining most of the changes.

The explanatory notes of the Deregulation Bill (Clause 33) refers to an amendment of the Planning and Energy Act 2008:

“Section 1(1)(c) of that Act provides that local planning authorities may include in their plans requirements that development in their area meets higher standards of energy efficiency than are required by Building Regulations. This is inconsistent with the consolidation of technical standards for housing in Building Regulations, and the amendment will disapply the provision in England in relation to development that consists of the construction or alteration of buildings to provide dwellings, or the carrying out of any work on dwellings. Government policy meanwhile is that new dwellings meet a zero net carbon emissions standard from 2016.”

The Government is concerned that the Code for sustainable homes and ‘Merton-type’ planning conditions, enabled by the Planning and Energy Act 2008, undermine the viability of housing development. The Deregulation Bill allows developers to decide the most appropriate route for energy use on a particular site, whether using on-site renewables or other approaches, as defined by more robust Building Regulations.

In addition to the Deregulation Bill there are other pieces of enabling legislation, for example the Infrastructure Bill – also presently going through Parliamentary approval. The intent here is in relation to the Government’s commitment to achieving zero carbon standards for new homes by 2016 (a similar standard is expected in 2019 for other buildings). Energy efficiency requirements are set out in the Building Regulations 2010 and are made under powers in the Building Act 1984. The Bill will enable amendments to be made to these regulations to achieve zero carbon using an optional ‘allowable solutions’ approach.

Carbon reduction in dwellings – the Infrastructure Bill

The Queen’s speech announced that through the Infrastructure Bill the 2016 zero carbon home standard will equate to Code for sustainable homes level 5, but that legislation will permit an equivalence to level 4 as long as use of the above mentioned ‘allowable solutions’ is made to offset the remainder of the carbon emissions – these are also known as ‘abatement measures’.

‘Allowable solutions’ can be used where it is not ‘technically feasible or cost effective’ to achieve zero carbon through on-site measures alone, this might include fabric efficiency, energy efficiency and use of renewable energy sources such as solar panels or ground source heat.

Proposed changes including transitional arrangements are to be delivered through the Housing standards review.

Housing standards review

The Government’s 2011 Carbon Plan and subsequent 2013 and 2014 budgets have confirmed the Government’s commitment to ensuring new housing achieves zero carbon by 2016. The consultation for this proposed that a Building Regulations approach would be the most appropriate route for delivering zero carbon homes by that date.

Chapter 5 of the Housing standards review (August 2013) states that Building Regulations have now surpassed lower levels of the Code for sustainable homes, with current Building Regulation Part L requirements between levels 3 and 4; a zero carbon equivalent is given at level 5 with further strengthening likely by 2016 presumably with the intent of the minimum fabric standard raised to full Code level 4; augmented by ‘allowable solutions’.

The Housing standards review makes a number of additional proposals in relation to new housing development, including that:

  • It is no longer appropriate for Local Authorities to determine additional standards for the amount of energy use in homes that comes from on-site renewables.
  • Developers should be given flexibility to decide appropriate solutions for energy use on a site. This includes flexibility to decide how to meet the shortfall between minimum on-site energy standard and zero carbon requirement.
  • There needs to be a clear break between the role of planning in shaping locations of development and energy infrastructure and the role of Building Regulations in defining energy performance.
  • There is a move to a Building Regulations only approach with regards energy.
  • Changes are required to the Planning and Energy Act 2008 to allow the above.
  • There is a winding down of the Code for sustainable homes at the time the Government statement of policy is probable.
  • Arrangements for interim measures are needed, whilst the above are implemented.

On 6 August 2014 the Government published an additional consultation on options for ’allowable solutions’ called Next steps to zero carbon homes – allowable solutions.

Next steps to zero carbon homes – allowable solutions

Energy use in dwellings is covered by Part L, Conservation of fuel and power, of the Building Regulations. This regulates energy used in space heating, hot water, lighting and ventilation. Parts F and G also influence energy consumption in relation to ventilation, hot water and combustion appliances.

Energy performance standards for housing have been enhanced by the update of Part L in 2014. It is recognised that as we progress toward zero carbon, it will be increasingly harder to meet the zero requirement through measures on site. Fabric efficiency and use of on-site low or zero carbon technology alone may not be economically viable; people are only prepared to pay a certain amount for their homes and care little for a ‘Code level’ of sustainability.

Notwithstanding this, house builders will still need to meet zero carbon requirements. The Next steps to zero carbon homes – allowable solutions consultation has suggested four options for routes to compliance:

  • Providing some or all carbon abatement on site through fabric efficiency and connected measures.
  • Meeting the remaining carbon abatement through off-site carbon action, for example through retrofitting of existing buildings.
  • Delivering their zero carbon obligation through contract with a third party, who deliver the required carbon abatement measures.
  • Paying into a fund that subsequently provides investment for carbon abatement projects. It is likely these funds will be priced capped.

It is proposed that the above options can be used in a variety of different ways, tailored to suit site conditions. It is also proposed that the first and possibly the second route be accommodated into Building Regulations Approved Document L. As already mentioned, an on-site requirement equivalent to Code for sustainable homes level 4 has been suggested, with implementation in 2016, to meet government and European targets. The consultation in 2013 gave fabric energy efficiency targets for 2016 (based on research by the Zero Carbon Hub) of:

  • 46 kWh/m²yr for detached houses
  • 46 kWh/m²yr for semi-detached and end terrace houses
  • 39 kWh/m²yr mid terraced houses
  • 39 kWh/m²yr for Low rise apartments of less than four storeys.

CIBSE (and others) give a fabric energy efficiency for an end terrace house (under Part L 2014) of 47.18 kWh/m²yr. This is calculated using the table in Appendix R of the Government’s SAP 2012.

Verification and certification of compliance for these options is likely to be required, with ‘allowable solutions’ for meeting obligations defined within a national framework. It has also been suggested that a financial sanction for non-compliance, possibly aimed at the ‘allowable solutions’ provider, be implemented.

It is likely there may be exemptions from the above requirements for small volume house builders who may struggle to justify the additional financial burden; this has been suggested for incorporation into the Infrastructure Bill. A consultation document, Next steps to zero carbon homes: small sites exemption was added to the GOV.UK website on 17 November 2014.

‘Allowable solutions’ funds will be price capped, there are a range of scenarios based on a levied amount in pounds sterling per tonne of carbon that requires abatement. Other routes will not be price capped.

Energy efficiency and Building Regulations – statement of policy

Responses to the various consultations will inform a statement of policy early in 2015. The Planning and Energy Act will not be amended until the Zero carbon homes policy is in place in 2016 – the change is likely to restrict Local Authorities’ ability to set minimum energy efficiency standards

Interim transitional planning requirements (and application of local planning policy) will apply until the Building Regulations and other standards come into force. It is proposed that where a local planning policy requires a specific Code for sustainable homes level, then only the elements of energy and water efficiency need be applied.

Comments on the above proposals

  • Generally, feedback has been that a choice of approach for house builders to achieve zero carbon is a positive step.
  • One of the criticisms has stated that it may be easier for developers to adopt the ‘allowable solutions’ rather meet carbon compliance targets; it’s possible through this approach that occupiers could find their energy bills higher than they might have expected.
  • House builders have voiced strong concerns about potential costs and resultant impact on the volume of housing produced. Such concerns may guide the finalization of details such as price capping of funds.
  • Local Authorities have not been happy that house builders can decide for themselves how carbon abatement is achieved. They would prefer that local measures and focus are supported.
  • There is concern at the performance gap between the designed and post completion performance.
  • New build housing accounts for 1% of the total volume of building stock, impacts in terms of carbon emissions are likely to be minimal.
  • Research is ongoing with projects such AIM4C and the Carbon Hubs to act as enablers for implementing these proposals.